A Texan daily newspaper will start charging for access to its online content this week. The Valley Morning Star, which covers the city of Harlingen, will be the first of the 75 papers owned by the California-based Freedom Communications to impose charges for viewing its Internet edition. If successful, however, the group's other papers will most likely follow suit, as according to the Star's editor, Tyler Patten, the Star "certainly won't be the last" to charge for online content.
The paper will charge viewers 75 cents a day, or a $3.95 monthly subscription to view its Internet content. Those who currently have a 7-day subscription to the print edition will benefit from free online access. Regular receivers of the weekend and Sunday editions will be charged a reduced rate.
The subscription will allow access to all of the paper's online content, which includes breaking news, local stories, video and other online-only features which the paper has pioneered for Freedom Communications. Such innovation has, according to the website, "resulted in several times in a million or more online page views per month". If the majority of these viewers prove willing to pay for their visits, the charges could yeild a handsome revenue for the publication.
The publisher's decision to impose a charge for its content, it seems, is largely down to the concern to reward print subscribers for their loyalty by no longer allowing them to foot the bill for non-subscribers reading the same content for free online. However, parts of the site will remain free to view, including the paper's home page, national news, obituries and classified sections.
"It will allow greater value to our many loyal print-edition subscribers by not giving away the news to non-subscribers," Patton said. "The days of giving content away, which costs money to create and for which we charge our print subscribers, I think, are just over."
Whilst the debate as to what are the most effective methods for newspapers to stimulate revenues and readership is yet to reach a consensus, the charging of fees to view online editions appears to be increasingly attractive for general interest and regional and local publications.